Tracking the EU's structural funds

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London, a Potter Foundation-funded investigation unit, has partnered with the Financial Times to shine some light on how the €347bn of European structural funds is distributed. For eight months the Bureau and the FT have systematically sought details of how EFSF and ESF monies are used in all 27 member states of the European Union, including Ireland.

It came to light in September that Ireland had failed to apply for ESF monies for FAS for over 10 months as a result of investigations into fraud at the agency. The European Commission is reviewing some of the €600m given to Fas over the past 10 years. We might expect more revelations in relation to the investigations from the stories in the FT.

We met Cynthia O’Murchu, the FT’s lead journalist for the story, in Amsterdam at the Data Driven Journalism event organised by the European Journalism Centre over the summer. You can watch Cynthia’s talk at the conference here.

Myself and Mark were happy to provide some assistance to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in relation to the Irish component of the investigation over the past number of months.

Press release here:

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in collaboration with The Financial Times, has for the first time traced how the European Union distributes billions through its structural funds, revealing a trail of undetected waste, missed opportunity and even fraud.

As Europeans face the uncertainty of swingeing government cuts, the European Union continues to spend. Its structural fund programme distributes a colossal €347bn of European tax payers’ money across 271 regions in 27 countries. Yet a web of bureaucracy makes it almost impossible to track how the EU’s second largest budget is being spent. Even MEPs have not had a truly transparent view of the data.

Over eight months the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Financial Times have created a unique database that traces every penny distributed under the EU’s structural funds programme to date. The research collates information on 646,929 beneficiaries across all 27 member states, to provide a clear view of the EU’s second largest budget.

The research shows how big businesses are accessing grants, despite the fact that the structural funds are intended to provide a helping hand to Europe’s weakest members and smallest businesses. It also shows how EU funds have poured cash into the hands of the Italian mafia.

The key findings will be revealed in the Financial Times over five days from November 30 at and on the Bureau’s website

Iain Overton, Editor at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, based at City University, explains the importance of the database: “In an age of austerity we need to ensure that every penny counts. The EU hands out nearly €350bn, and yet the distribution of these funds has remained opaque. Even MEPs haven’t had access to the detail. Our database shines new light on how the money is spent.”

Lionel Barber, editor of the Financial Times, said: “Our joint investigation raises some serious questions about the way the EU allocates development funds. The European Commission and the EU’s 27 member states need to ensure more transparency and greater accountability over how billions of euros of European taxpayers’ money are spent.”